This list comes from my own collection of children's books and is in no way exhaustive. I have not even included every children's book I ever owned or read to my son. Even though I cannot resist buying books, many good children's books are in your local library. I don't know how many of these books are out of print because I bought them several years ago when my now teenaged son was little but most books can be looked up on the internet and somewhere, someone is probably selling them.
I have compiled a relatively brief list of books each under the age when my son could comprehend and enjoy them. Every child is different, however, and that is why I have offered a two or three year age span for age appropriateness. Play it by ear with your own child; be sensitive to what sort of books interest them. Don't force them to listen to a story they are clearly not interested in. In addition to teaching through books you want to develop a love of books.
First and Second Year:
1.Black and White booksThese books offer the sharp contrast that experts say babies need to discern shapes. They include everyday shapes of a baby's world. They contain no words so you simply tell baby out loud what each object is: Teddy bear, sailboat, rubber duck etc.
2. Opposites by the National Geographic Society
Actually any book with opposites that have simple clear-cut illustrations with solid colors will do. This one has animals such as the front of a raccoon on the cover and his back on the back cover, an owl awake and asleep, a hippo's mouth open then closed, a billy goat climbing up a mountain then down and so on.
3. In Out: a Disney book of Opposites illustrated by Richard DuerrsteinAnother great opposite book starring Mickey and the gang that is very appealingly illustrated.In-Out: A Disney Book of Opposites
4. One Mickey Mouse: A Disney book of numbers illustrated by Richard Duerrstein
This is a book from the same series as the aforementioned book but, as the title suggests, deals with sequence and quantity concepts.
There is another book in this series about feelings that I don't have but I'm sure is very good as well. One Mickey Mouse: A Disney Book of Numbers
5. Dr. Suess books
I will not list all of Dr. Suess's books here but suffice to say that the simplest of the books will appeal to babies and toddlers: The ABC book, The Foot Book, Run, Dog, Run to name a few.
6. The Little Dog Laughed and other nursery Rhymes by Mother Goose illustrated by Lucy Cousins
This book contains all the best known nursery rhymes that every child should grow up knowing. Cousins uses a primitive, childlike method of drawing and uses bold solid colors that will make it easy for the very young to perceive and enjoy.
7. Good Dog, Carl books by Alexandra Day
These are a series of books about a rottweiler and a baby and the simple adventures they experience together while the parents are away. They are sweet stories and appeal to toddlers.
They have no words so you can talk to your toddler concerning the events on each page.
Second and Third Year
8. Eric Carle books
These are fabulous books with wonderful illustrations made out of collage. They include: The Angry Ladybug, The Hungry Caterpillar, The Busy Spider, My Apron and many others.
9. Bill Martin Jr. Books
Again all these are wonderfully illustrated while teaching concepts in an understandable way for preschoolers. A few titles: Chick a chick a Boom Boom! Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See?
10. Books by Audrey and Don Wood
These books are fun to look at because of the detail (that two and three olds are ready to comprehend) and the comical scenes. Some of the books are: The Napping House, Piggies, and King Bidgood's in the Bathtub.
11. Circles, Triangles and Squares by Tana Hoban
This book is typical of the many books that Hoban has created for preschoolers. They contain photographs of scenes around a city The child is to identify the various shapes they see. E.g. a child will notice (with guidance from an adult) circles inside of pipes, hula hoops, eyeglasses; triangles on a swing set, trellises of a railroad bridge, and the roof of a house sidewalks containing squares; etc..
12. Tell Me a Rhyme illustrated by Pamela Storey
Another book of nursery rhymes with realistically drawn figures and containing more detail then the previously listed nursery rhyme book. This book allows children to see how people dressed in bygone days and also develops a knowledge base of how the events in the rhymes actually look as compared to the more “surrealistic” drawings of The Little Dog Laughed.
13. The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper
I am a great proponent of classic stories and believe there are some stories that every child should be familiar with. The Little Engine that Could is one of them. This is a classic story of determination winning out in the end.
14. Books by Margaret Wise Brown
Brown attempted to write stories in a way that a child would express himself. They are excellent in conveying everyday concepts that are on a preschooler's level. My favorites are, Good Night Moon, The Quiet Noisy Book and the Winter Noisy Book.
15. First Discovery Books by Scholastic
These books are fun not only because they teach interesting facts (titles include Airplanes, Fruit, Colors, The Earth and Sky) but because they have transparent sheets with the outside of the object being studied (e.g. an apple) on one side of the page and then the inside of the object on the other side combined with illustrations on opaque pages as well.
16. Go Away Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley
Emberley illustrated many wonderful books of which quite a few are of well known folk songs – always valuable for children to learn as it teaches them about their own heritage. This book is not about a folk song but is cleverly created through cut out illustrations that slowly “create” a monster and then make him “go away” as each page turn first adds a detail of the monster's face for the first half of the book, then takes them away page by page for the second half.
17. Zoom and Re Zoom by Istvan Bantai
Zoom and Re Zoom have no words but are extremely interesting illustrations that grow out of each other with each turn of the page showing children (and us) that things are not always as they first seem.
Search Amazon.com for zoom istvan banyai
18. A boy, A Dog and a Frog by Mercer Mayor
This is the first of three books by Mayor that are pencil drawn without words. They are endearing illustrations of the various adventures a boy and his pets go on. In the first book, the boy and dog try to catch the frog and find out that sometimes to catch something you have to let it catch you. In the second book, the boy, frog and dog, now all fast friends meet a new "smaller" frog who eagerly joins the group much to the jealous consternation of the "older" frog. A good book for young children coping with the advent of a younger sibling. As with other books without written narration they are an enjoyable way for a child to develop their own powers of expression and ability to describe in their own words details of a given event.
Search Amazon.com for a boy a dog and a frog
19. Tuesday by David Wiesner
Another book without words (mostly) that delves into the fantastical. Without giving anything away, lets just say that it starts with some frogs flying around on lily pads. This sort of book spurs a child's imagination.
Search Amazon.com for tuesday by david wiesner
Third, Fourth, and Fifth year
20. Colors, Places and People by Phillip Yenawine
Three different books by Yenawine who at one time was the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. They are very interesting and set in a way to help a child think about the works of art (all from M.O.M.A.) he/she is looking at. Finally, they are an invaluable tool in cultivating a taste for fine art.
21. Time for Bed by Mem Fox
Fox is an Australian children's book writer. This is an excellent book to read before going to bed. It contains endearing illustrations by Jane Dyer depicting various animals being put to bed by their mothers. This also shows the concept of how animals look fully grown and as babies.
22. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star illustrated by Michael Hague
Books that illustrate folk and children songs are a must in any children's library and Hague is a phenomenal illustrator. His paintings are full of rich color and detail (which a child this age can visually process) He has also illustrated an ABC book entitled “Alphabears” a book on Unicorns and at least one Fairy Tale book. Little girls especially will love his beautiful paintings.
23. Yankee Doodle illustrated by Steven Kellogg
Another book illustrating a folk song. Kellogg's illustrations contain a lot of detail so make sure your child is at a stage of cognitive development to visually process the pictures.
Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Year
24. Pop up books by Nick Bantok
These books can seem a little weird if not creepy to some, but they are ingeniously engineered to make interesting pop up illustrations. What also makes them worthwhile is that Bantok chose famous poems from Alice in Wonderland, the Merry Adventures of Robin Hood and even Kubla Khan by Coleridge. A probable favorite for children this age will be his pop up book of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.
Search Amazon.com for nick bantock pop up books
25. Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka
This book contains a word a page and simply drawn illustrations, so it could probably be read to even younger readers. The concept of friendship and accepting people different than ourselves, however, is a good teaching model for the older preschooler and school age child.
26. Toot and Puddle books by Holly Hobbie
I love all these warmly painted books with their touching stories about two pig friends. Most children will, too.
Search Amazon.com for toot and puddle books
27. Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev, designed by Barbara Cooney
This is another pop up book , brilliantly done, depicting the famous orchestral piece by Sergei Prokofiev. The pop ups unfold as each page is turned over as if they were a scene on a stage. It is painted in such a way as to convey a rich Russian backdrop to the observer and teachers would find this a wonderful classroom prop as they played this musical work that is intended to teach the different instruments in an orchestra.